By Susan M. Cover
MaineToday Media State House Writer
AUGUSTA — Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s budget team is considering a $5.6 million request for additional funds for mental health services needed to comply with the 20-year-old Augusta Mental Health Institute consent decree, which outlines how such services shall be provided by the state.
“We’ve got to decide whether we can cover it or not,” said Sawin Millett, who leads the budget team and is LePage’s nominee to lead the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
The request comes from a report filed earlier this month by Court Master Daniel Wathen, who is charged with monitoring the state’s compliance with the terms of the decree.
Wathen said the state Department of Health and Human Services needs $4.6 million for community mental health services and $1 million for additional rental assistance for MaineCare and non-MaineCare clients.
“The department’s ability to meet the terms of the consent decree in the near future depends very much on the outcome of the budget deliberations in the coming legislative session,” he wrote in the report.
The state has been operating under the terms of the decree since 1990, when advocates for the mentally ill sued the state over poor conditions at what was then the Augusta Mental Health Institute. Despite major progress since then — including the construction of a new facility and improvements to care — the state continues to fall short of full compliance.
Part of the reason is budget cuts.
In his most recent quarterly report, Wathen writes that the “primary deficiency in the community mental health system is the unavailability of mental health services” for those who are not eligible for MaineCare.
More than 100 people are on a waiting list, some of whom have waited as long as 695 days, he wrote.
The consent decree calls for services to be provided to this group within three working days.
“Clearly, the state of Maine is neglecting the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Wathen wrote. “Those who are deprived of needed services often reappear in the criminal justice system, jails, homeless settings and hospitals.”
The consent decree covers about 4,500 people — everyone treated at AMHI or the Riverview Psychiatric Center since January 1988. The state has an obligation to serve others with mental illness by providing similar services, bringing the total number of people served to about 12,000.
The LePage budget team is in the process of writing two budgets. One is a supplemental budget estimated to be $110 million which is necessary to keep the 2011 budget in balance. The other is the two-year budget that will cover the period from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2013.
Millett said some of the money requested by Wathen is part of deliberations for the supplemental budget; the rest would be considered in the two-year spending plan.
The budget team learned recently state revenues will be down by $5.2 million for the 2011 budget because of the tax cuts recently extended by Congress, he said.
Millett, a former member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said he wants to talk with Wathen about where the state stands with respect to the agreement.
“I want to sit down with him and find out in a more candid way how likely it is to achieve compliance in the near term,” he said.